Transitions

My eldest daughter finished primary school yesterday.  She and my other daughter went back into school part-time last year after some years of full time home-educating,  when I myself went back into full-time study.  And what a year it’s been!  Big ups, even bigger downs, a massive roller coaster ride of emotions amidst an almost continual questioning of “Are we doing the right thing?”  (Finally, after more than 11 years of parenting, I realise, of course, that we can never truly know the answer to this question.  So much of this journey feels like one huge experiment.  Which feels frightening when what we’re talking about here is a person’s life.  The shaping of a person’s ‘person’ if you like.)

Anyway, it occurred to me over the past few days of heart-wrenching decisions and tearful farewells, that I do not actually know what my eldest daughter is going through right now.  Throughout my whole school life, I never experienced that sense of completion that comes when you finish one level of schooling alongside your peers.  Before the end of primary school, I was taken out and sent to a different school.  Before I was finished at that school, I moved to secondary school.  Between my A level years, I then left secondary school to go finish up (theoretically with more ‘success’) at college in London.   With each of these moves, though, alongside feeling sad and at times very, very alone, I also missed out on that shared ‘ending school’ rite of passage – something which, looking back, and also seeing what my daughter is going through now, feels crucial somehow.  Not to have experienced, alongside all my fellow travellers on that horribly mixed emotional journey of school, the final end to it all.  A sense of completion.  Of survival even.  Of witnessing each other as we both celebrated and grieved for what we were leaving behind, what we’d shared together, and what we were each stepping into in the next phase of our young lives.

(I’ve been wondering, too, these past few days how these missed experiences also feed into that sense I have of myself not fitting in.  Not belonging.  Not quite knowing where to put myself, because, well, actually, I’m not sure I really do fully understand what it means to be a ‘complete’ part of something.  Another piece to the puzzle at least…)

So, when my husband suggested the other day that he’d like for us to think about how we might honour and celebrate this rite of passage for our daughter, I felt, suddenly, like I’d missed something big.  How could I have almost let this moment pass me by? I know now, of course, that the significance of this moment did almost pass me by simply because of my own missed experiences.  (And so, I’ll gently forgive myself for that one.)

Transitions like these, that we go through from the day we are born, are huge.  And, I believe, we should not take them for granted.  Firstly, let us begin simply by acknowledging them!  Let us allow them into our psyche, and see them for what they are.  Then we must find ways of honouring and celebrating them.  Ways that are true and real to us as completely unique individuals and completely unique families – what works for one, after all, might not be relevant for another.  We need to hold our children’s hands through these massive changes, because yes, they are scary!  Those feelings of grief at having to leave behind friends and familiarity, that sense of unknowing and fear of what is to come, they are real and they are big. And, crucially, we will all continue to experience many endings and beginnings throughout our lives.   We can’t take those feelings away from our children, and, indeed, I believe we do them a great disservice by asking them to feel anything differently from what they do, even though, at times, these emotions can make us feel vulnerable ourselves.  I myself have felt confusion, sadness, guilt and a sense of loss of late.  Uncomfortable feelings indeed.  Yet, as I keep reminding my daughter, and myself: to grieve for something is to understand what it really means to care.  We honour where we have come from and what we have come through by remembering it and by grieving for it.

It is in those moments, too, when we feel guilt, shame, anger, sadness, where the true gold is to be found.  If only we could just let ourselves BE in those moments, and not continually strive to push them away.  We are always looking for joy, for happiness, for the ‘good’ emotions – in Buddhist teachings it is exactly this that is the cause of our suffering.  Not that we suffer difficult feelings, depression, loss, death even, but that we do not allow ourselves to really feel these things when they arise, nor accept them for what they are.

And so I say: Let us not let these times past unwitnessed!  Let us be truly mindful of what it is to feel sadness, loss, fear and anticipation.  We all grow through these experiences, but only if we can truly accept what is happening in the moment and to allow our bodies to FEEL it deeply too.  Also, importantly, let us remind ourselves that these difficult emotions do not mean that we have done something badly or made the wrong decision.  We need to learn to embrace them as we do all the happiness, excitement, wonder and joy that will also come our way.

I want to honour this first big transition in my daughter’s life.  I want her to know that I see her and I feel her.  This is one of many, many evolutions she will go through in her beautiful, precious life, and I really, really want to get it right.

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Beauty and pain

Last night, as I watched my two daughters and their beloved cousins dancing around the living room to Michael Jackson, Queen, and Culture Club (our usual playlist), in amongst all the laughter and the silliness and the pure, innocent joy, I realised I felt a pang of sadness.  These four beautiful beings are getting so old!  Their independence grows as they move more and more into their own beings.  Where will these days and nights of endless talk and ridiculous giggles go?  How will things unfold for them?

Every day, in my meditation practice, I make the intention to “come back to the present moment”.  I have a huge tendency to imagine the future, to lay paths out in front of me, and to see myself walking those paths to some distant, imagined, future.  I am so good at this, in fact, I catch myself constantly daydreaming.  Children, for me,  are the very essence of living in the moment.  Yes, they hold memories of sad times, hurtful words, and painful moments, and yes they, too, at times worry about the future.  And yet, time and again, as a full-time parent I witness astonishing moments of acceptance, forgiveness, and letting go.  It humbles me, and it is a huge gift.

In fact, when I take a step back and really see just what my children have brought to my life over the past ten years, I feel quite overwhelmed.  I remember the feeling when I held our first daughter in my arms after she was born – “How am I to take responsibility for this?!”   And yet, every day for the past ten years, as a full-time mum and home educator, I have had to make decisions that affect both my daughters’ lives.  Not only their ‘presents’, but also, potentially, their ‘futures’.  Nowadays, we lack the precious and crucial roles of elders in our society, and so many of these decisions we, as parents, make alone.  And when we choose to take the less conventional roads, such as home educating, we again take on not only so much more of the decision making in our children’s lives, we also often have to forge our own ways with it too.

I feel so grateful for the path we have chosen up until this point.  Although many people see it as somehow ‘less’ than a full time job (because, after all, where’s the respect if you’re not getting paid for something?), the home educating journey is by no means an easy one.  I have met incredible people who walk this path.  The commitment and dedication that they show to their children often blows me away.  I find their deep rooted beliefs that this is the right path for them and their family humbling and, at times, awe inspiring.   They know what they believe, and they walk their talk.  And, for anyone that has ever stepped off the path of convention knows, this is NEVER the easy option.

In September, I will be starting full time study, and my daughters will go to school.  I have a whole range of emotions about this new trajectory.  Right now, what I’m sitting with is just how much I am going to miss these days I spend with my girls.  The last ten years have been hard and relentless and exhausting and challenging and, and, and….  And they have been wonderful.   To watch them grow, to see the developmental leaps that they take EVERY SINGLE DAY, to be such a close part of their daily experience of life – this is a precious thing.  As a result of having spent so much time together in their early years, our relationships are strong.  I have witnessed so much of their lives up until this point that I believe I truly know them.  They, too, have watched me navigating the rollercoaster ride of life, with all its ups and downs.  They have seen me giggle ridiculously and dance wildly.  And they have seen me cry with uncontrollable frustration too.  Many times.  This is not ‘sheltering them from the world’, as some critics of home education argue – on the contrary,  I believe this IS the world, and it has only served to make the bond between us and our children tighter.

I embrace the future, and I am excited beyond words about how it might unfold.  And, yes, I am mourning all that needs to change too.  I accept that this is a major part of parenting, this letting go.  Sometimes I see the joy in it, the openness… the freedom!  And sometimes I feel the loss and sadness that walks hand in hand with that joy, with a pain that is both emotional and physical.

I honour my daughters’ journeys, as I honour my own.  I trust in the decisions we have made so far, and all those decisions that are yet to come.  And, I see the beauty and pain that are sometimes so closely interwoven, some days it can be hard to distinguish between them.